What Really Happened At My First Olympic Triathlon?

Yes, I can prove it.

I usually start every race hopeful I’ll be a contender–you know, beat someone.  Then, by the end of the race, I’m pretty happy to finish it.  Usually, I don’t beat many, if any, people.  In my age group or not.  I’ve been last so often, I know what goes on way back at the end.

My husband is telling everyone I got third place in my age group.  Which is true.  He’s very proud of me.  Also true.

There is a definite sense of achievement when you set a goal and then you accomplish it.  The distances were .933 miles/1.5K in the swim, 23.9 miles/42K in the bike, and 6.33 miles/10K in the run, generally double the basic Sprint.  I did them all (including 2 transitions) in 4 hours, 17 minutes, and16.3 seconds.  The leaders finished in less than two hours.

The swim was first and looked freakishly long—in the following photo, you can see way off to the right (if you squint and look really hard) an orange triangular buoy.  That marked about a quarter of the distance.  At that point you turn left and swim twice as far to another buoy, then turn left and head to shore.

The first buoy is way over to the right (above the lady in the white cap)–way over.

This gives you the general idea. Long.  The orange lines.  (Blue was for the Sprint.)

The water was warm and the sky was overcast which was good because I remembered my first sprint when the sun fogged up my goggles and I couldn’t see in the glare.  I stayed in the back to avoid the pack and tried to relax.

I’m the shortest one and I don’t know why we’re all looking to the left; we’re getting ready to swim right.

Fifty-six minutes later, I was still in the back, had swum into one co-swimmer over and over, and somehow got bumped in the head by a lifeguard sitting on one of those Styrofoam looking surfboards; kind of like the one in the first water photo.

The good news was… I’d practiced and I wasn’t tired.  I was ready for the bike until…

…my heart sank to see only a few bicycles still in the transition area; pretty much guaranteeing I would be pedaling and running for another three-plus hours without much hope of passing anyone.   Unlike other entrants, if I’m behind on the swim, I can’t count on biking or running to catch up.  I’m equally slow in all areas.

When the sky darkened and promised a massive storm toward the end of the bike ride, I calculated I would be running another 1.5 hours and pondered whether the officials might not allow me to run if there was lightning.  I mean, how could I argue with that?

But no, it just rained, which I came to appreciate as a smile from God.  It was lovely and refreshing and saved me from pounding what would have been hot, blistering asphalt.  Did I care that it soaked everyone else back at the finish line eating and partying and having a good time congratulating each other on their times?   NO.  I was running very much alone in the rain and it was better than the hot sun.

On mile 3 (Or was it 4?) one of the volunteers asked if I was the last one.  I gave him my game smile and said “I hope not.”  He kind of snapped “I know.  Are you the last one?”  Hmmm, I wondered if he’d ever brought up the rear before.

By the time I did cross the finish line, pumping it up for the final 100 yards and flashing my best triumphant picture-ready smile, the music had stopped, the food was being collected, and the bike racks had been torn down except for the one holding my lonely bike.  The only people present at the finish line were the official timer and my unflaggingly supportive husband.   (Thank you, Sweet Man!)

Okay, there may have been a couple of other family members waiting for the two people I did beat out of 343 participants.  And I truly believe both those guys had sustained injuries during the race or were recovering from previous injuries.

Imagine my surprise when I later learned I’d been awarded third place in my age category even before I crossed the finish line.

It’s not too hard to do the math.  If I got third place in my age group… well, you see where I’m going.

I know there are two views to this coin.  There are those who think I’m amazing because I even attempt triathlons.  (Thank you very much, my friends; it means a lot.)

But, sometimes, when you’re the lowest rung of the ladder over and over, when almost everyone else is really trying to WIN a prize and you’re consistently last, you wonder just why you’re competing.  Sweating and grunting and aching toenails aren’t really fun.

It’s not for the camaraderie of racing with someone either; I mean, there’s no one back where I am.

Do you believe Olympic athletes who don’t win at least the bronze medal are satisfied because they tried?  Do you think it matters to them that they’re faster than the whole rest of the world?

So, why am I doing this?  I started training a little over a year ago when I woke up one morning reflecting on a friend’s serious illness and wondered what I was waiting for.  My life was being lived whether I thought I was practicing or not, and if I didn’t take charge of my fitness, no one else was going to do it for me.  I decided to tackle a triathlon because… it was a challenge and even if it would be a stretch, I thought I could do it.  So, I did.

This would be a good place to mention I  have the best coach ever.  After my first triathlon, my husband who has natural athletic ability, delicately suggested I might need professional help.  In all three areas.  So, I took his advice and I’ve improved–with no injuries.  (My coach is Kevin McCarthy, @ Path Performance and I’m saving the coaching relationship for another entry, because it deserves its own space.)

One race led to another and I’ve kept going.  I also really like to eat A LOT and I like being able to wear anything in my closet if I CHOOSE to wear it; not if I can squeeze into it.  I have a lot more energy and am letting go of things taking away too much time from what’s truly important.  Now I can’t say I’m elevated to the point where I love the training, but I sure feel great after I’m done!

Yeah, I’m ready for some chocolate!

The other thing is… it’s a life lesson in humility and grace.  In my mind I’m fast, but it’s not translating so much into actual performance.

So, I’ve been accumulating some hardware for basically showing up in my age group.  I’m grateful I’m even able to compete at all.  I’m also learning it helps to have a sense of humor.

I’m not a contender—yet.  But, I’m going to keep trying.  ~ JD here.

PS:  My stats are here, if you want to go all the way to the bottom!    You might have to play with the controls for “all individuals”…

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15 Responses to What Really Happened At My First Olympic Triathlon?

  1. Candace says:

    What a metamorphosis, Gayla! You now know you truly CAN do anything.

  2. You GO, Girl! You are awesome and inspiring!

  3. I’ve got to learn to proofread…I loved your blog. And you ARE awesome and inspiring!

  4. Paula Monroe says:

    You are a contenda” -movie magic as always from moi:))))

  5. Jill O says:

    My dear, you are awesome. I could go on and on about how awesome I think you are and how you have done something so very awesome. But what it comes down to is that you are LIVING your life, and above all else, that is the most important thing. Some people never get there. I am so glad that triathlons presented another common ground for us.
    Congratulations on your hardware! Cherish it. You earned it!

    • JD says:

      Dear Jill O ~ Thank you for your kind words ~ I cherish them, and you, too! It’s been two steps forward and one step back at times, so I am making progress; and just have to keep telling myself that. And that my 17 year old mind is trapped in a slightly older body! 🙂

  6. Diane Faulk says:

    You may be last of those who trained and entered the race, but you’re way ahead of all us losers/cowards who don’t even attempt what you have! Bravo Gayla!! ;•}

    • JD says:

      Thank you very much, Miss Di! Some of what you say is true, but you are no loser/coward either. Everyone makes her/his own path; mine’s a little crooked sometimes, although it does make things interesting! Can you imagine the pressure of going straight to the top and then having to stay there? 🙂

  7. Pingback: My First Triathlon – The Recap « breathlessrunner

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